If "Old School" and "She's Having a Baby" lined up 50 yards apart, sprinted at one another at full speed and collided in violently comedic-sexual fashion, spawning one film ("She's Having an Old School Baby"?) the result would be "Knocked Up."
Of course, that would mean "Old School" and "She's Having a Baby" have the ability to run and have sex, and they can't do those things because they are movies and not people or horses or jaguars, but the point is that "Knocked Up" is half goofball guy-movie and half sentimental chick-flick, and it works on both levels, even it does overstay its welcome.
Let's say you're the kind of woman who would love a Meg Ryan Film Festival and your boyfriend believes Danny Noonan is one of the great leading men of all time. You can see this film together.
On first blush, Judd Apatow's follow-up to "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" might seem like a typical modern-screwball-grossout-stoner comedy -- Peter Pan-complex guy hooks up with smart-hot girl, and pregnancy and hilarity ensue -- but it's also very smart. To fully appreciate the layers of in-jokes and references peppering the story, it helps if one has a masters in pop culture. If your dream "Jeopardy" board would include references to Jack on "Lost," Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas, the unstoppable arc of Ryan Seacrest's career, the "Mr. Skin" Web site, the strange allure of "fantasy" sports leagues and the Denise Richards-Neve Campbell clinch in "Wild Things," you are going to love this movie. It's so "of the moment," the characters talk about seeing "Spider-Man 3," for Peter Parker's sake -- yet it also touches on universal themes about romance and friendship and sibling relationships.
Apatow likes to take a character actor who would normally play the nerdy neighbor or the wisecracking best friend, and place him front and center. It was Steve Carrell in "Virgin," and it's Seth Rogen (who did play a wisecracking buddy in "Virgin) here. The semi-portly, completely average-looking Rogen has a unique way of barking his lines that makes almost anything sound funny. He plays Ben, a 25-year-old slacker who lives with a pack of similarly unmotivated roommates whose main goal seems to be prolonging the collegiate experience without actually attending college. They drink, they play video games, they get high, they make goofy bets, and they talk in vague terms about launching a Web site featuring only the "naked parts" of movies. (Even though they're immersed in pop culture, it takes a very long time before they learn such a site already thrives.)
"Grey's Anatomy" actress Katherine Heigl, lovely and sweet but unafraid to get sweaty and silly, plays Alison, an underachiever as well, though not for lack of ambition. She still lives with her intense control-freak older sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, recently seen throwing up on Carrell in "Virgin"), her husband (Paul Rudd, comedic gold as always) and their two children -- but she has just been promoted to an on-air gig with E!, so things are looking up. The E! channel complex is the setting for some brilliantly executed comedic pieces, with Ryan Seacrest gamely lampooning himself, and Kristen Wiig hilarious as a subtly jealous rival of Alison's.
Ben meets Alison on the night she's celebrating her promotion by downing a "Girls Gone Wild" number of shots. They stumble back to her bed and strip off their clothes, whereupon Ben makes a keen observation: "You're prettier than I am."
Unsafe sex ensues, followed by a morning-after breakfast at which Ben cheerfully reveals himself to be pretty much of a dork, and then Alison bids him a quick goodbye.
These two would never see each other again, were it not for the fact that Alison learns she's pregnant. She decides to keep the baby -- and also decides Ben has the right to know this.
As Alison and Ben enter into a friendship-that-might-develop-into-romance, "Knocked Up" walks the tightrope between a relationship-centric comedy and a dopey-funny romp. You get the requisite scenes where Ben seeks advice from his father (Harold Ramis), and Ben and Alison discuss their dreams and fears -- but you also get a trip to a gynecologist who peers between Alison's legs and says, "You do look like your sister," and a very funny bit in which Ben just can't bring himself to have sex with a pregnant Alison. (He suggests that they have sex "like dogs ... in the style of dogs.")
There's some casual meandering midway through the film, when both the Ben/Alison relationship and Pete/Debbie marriage hit rough patches. Ben and Pete road-trip to Vegas, while the very pregnant Alison and the thirtysomething Debbie hit a hipster club. A scene where a hulking doorman reveals his innermost feelings to Debbie is hilarious. The drug-tripping Vegas stuff is not. At some points in this two-hour-plus film, we feel as if we're watching the "extended director's cut" version, featuring several scenes that were best left on the cutting room floor.
The "Wedding Crashers"/ "Old School" crowd might also grow restless during the final act, which features a lot -- a lot -- of here-comes-the-baby stuff. If you believe that there are no new ways to stage the scene in which the mother-to-be changes her mind at the last minute and decides she wants massive doses of drugs after all, you would be correct.
Still, "Knocked Up" earns its sentimental moments. These people are very funny, but also likable and real. I'd love to revisit them in "Knocked Up Again!"